THE BIRTH OF MOUNTAINS

BY

   Michael Edwards

 

Cade was one of the first recruits to volunteer.  Three weeks after joining, he was fighting to drive the enemy from central Indiana and regain the towns which skirted Indianapolis, which were taken by the outlaws in a bid to surround Henryville.  He fought his first battle at a town called Wilson Corner in Shelby County; then he fought at Marietta, eight miles west of Wilson; then at Smithland, a couple miles northeast of Marietta; and at Prescott, eight miles farther east; but it wasn't until the battle of Shelbyville, a month and a half after going into battle, that he made his first kill.

Shelbyville proved to be the bloodiest battle of the entire war.  The town, barely ten miles southeast of Indianapolis, had close to twenty thousand inhabitants before it was abandoned forty years earlier.  It had finally begun to grow again as the fear of big cities began to wane and the larger towns surrounding them were seen once again as desirable locations; by the time the outlaws from Kentucky took it, almost five thousand people lived there.  Most of the residents managed to escape, word of the invaders preceding their arrival; those left behind were butchered, the invaders using them to sharpen their hand to hand combat skills.

A contingent of nearly a thousand enemy troops had managed to establish a stronghold at Shelbyville in less than a week.  It was to be the headquarters of the entire Indiana operation; Interstate 65, fifteen miles to the west, became the perimeter of the western frontier, Indiana Route 9, running through the center of Shelbyville, the main supply line for the region.  They built their camp in the southeastern quadrant of town, in an area bounded on both its east and west by old Conrail Railroad tracks, these tracks meeting at the apex of their camp, along East Michigan Road; the camp's southern boundary was marked by West McKay Road;  Indiana 9 almost bi-sected their camp.  

Cade's unit was made up mostly of new recruits fresh out of training.  Their mission was seen as fairly routine, to clean out a few small towns and then re-capture Shelbyville, where it was known that a contingent was holed up.  The intelligence that had been gathered mistakenly pinpointed the focus of enemy operations in the region as Columbus, twenty-five miles to the southwest, adjacent to Interstate 65 in Bartholomew County.  Brad's unit, proceeding from Jefferson Proving Ground after re-taking the towns of Jennings, Ripley and Decatur Counties, intended to reconnoiter with Cade's unit in Greensburg, in Decatur County, and proceed together to Columbus, thirty miles west of Greensburg.

A handful of outlaws had managed to escape the raids on Wilson Corner, Marietta and Prescott; they made their way to Shelbyville to warn of the impending attack.  The massive contingent was ready.  Expecting the attack to come from either the I-74 or Indiana 9 corridor, they positioned the bulk of their men along West McKay Road in anticipation of a quick and total victory.

Two-thirds of the way there, Cade, though not the leader of his unit, called a halt.  When questioned, all he could say was that something was not right.  He asked to be allowed to scout the town before his unit attacked, justifying his request with his first hand knowledge of the outlaws and his better understanding of larger towns and cities.  His leader agreed to his request, allowing him six hours to do his scouting before the unit proceeded.

Coming up a street parallel to Route 9, keeping well hidden in the shadows along its western side, he noticed the railroad tracks, and how they seemed to form the apex of a triangle a couple miles ahead.  Though the area looked deserted, there were signs of encampment.  He remembered a section of Brandenburg, where High Street and Broadway Street formed just such an apex, with Bypass Road forming the base of the triangle.  He remembered that that triangle was where the men who murdered his guardian and chased him into Indiana had come from.  Quickly, he retraced his steps back to his unit, to announce, on the basis of a hunch, that there was a trap awaiting them - that they would have to circle around and attack from the north.

His commander accepted his advice and, instead of heading for Shelbyville, headed for the small, deserted town of Meltzer, a few miles to its east.  From there, the unit swung around a northwest arc to make its entry along Indiana Route 44, as far as the Walkerville neighborhood, where it cut another northwest arc to follow the Big Blue River to the junction of River Drive, Indiana 9 and the Conrail track.  Its final movement was due south along Indiana 9 to East Mechanic Street, then east to North Noble Street, just west of the compound's apex along East Hendricks Street, where the unit regrouped for an all out assault on the enemy compound five blocks away.

Before the charge, Cade made one more request of his commander: to leave five or six men at a row of buildings just east of North Noble Street, where the charge would be made, to provide cover in case a retreat became necessary.  This time his commander refused his request, stating that all the men would be needed.  At three minutes after two P.M. on Tuesday, May 2nd of the year 2090, Cade's unit charged the enemy compound at Shelbyville, making it as far as East Hendricks Street, at the apex of the compound, before the enemy met their charge.

Still expecting an attack from the south, the enemy troops were caught off guard and, though they quickly regrouped to repel the assault from the north, were without direction or a formal plan of attack.  Consequently, they fought as one thousand separate points of combat rather than as a unified force of a thousand.  Otherwise, they would have decimated Cade's unit in a matter of minutes.

In the first five minutes of battle, half of Cade's unit - seventy-five men - were taken out by the enemy, whose losses were four times as great.  Both sides had automatic weapons and single shot rifles and guns - any kind of weapon anyone had been able to secure and carry into battle.  Cade's unit came in shooting, advancing beyond the perimeter at Hendricks Street even though they knew they had been spotted and were about to be fired on.  A hundred of the enemy had been killed even before the unit's fire was returned.  Two hundred more were killed as the unit advanced their first two blocks into the compound.  This put them at South Street; from there, they advanced to Columbia Avenue, then Locust Street, then Bud Street, losing another twenty-five men while the enemy lost another hundred.

Cade's commander took a bullet at Howard Street, six blocks into the enemy compound.  His chest was ripped open, his heart and lungs pulsating in the open air in a futile attempt to stave off death; then he quit moving.  Cade, a few feet behind him, shot his way past his commander, killing ten men in rapid succession before also being hit in the chest, but on the left side and with a much smaller gauge bullet.  One of his ribs deflected the bullet, which lodged in his chest wall, millimeters from piercing his lung.

Realizing his unit could go no farther without being annihilated, Cade led the remaining fifty men in a hasty retreat to the west, past Center Street and Pike Street, across the tracks, to a row of old wooden buildings on Jefferson Street, just outside the compound.  Sensing that these buildings would be a death trap, Cade led his men around them, to follow Elm Street south past Second, Third and Fourth Streets to St. Joseph Street.  Though the maneuver bought some time, none of the buildings offered the kind of shelter his men needed to fight off the remaining five hundred enemy troops.  Then he noticed something, a gully running parallel to the railroad tracks.  He led his men to it and jumped down the abutment, landing in a shallow stream called Van Pelt Ditch.  The water was frigid, but the bank gave a vantage point from which the men could repel the enemy troops pursuing them.  Cade knew they could not remain knee deep in this nearly frozen stream for longer than a few minutes without jeopardizing not only the mission but their lives as well.

For ten minutes straight Cade and his men fired round after round on the advancing enemy - half his men firing from the western bank, half from the eastern bank.  Another twenty-five were hit, Cade among them, the bullet shattering his left shoulder.  He felt the hit, felt the bone fragmenting, felt the blood pouring down his arm; yet he still used his shoulder to help steady and aim his weapon, each shot he fired banging his gun against the mangled shoulder in a never ending volley of excruciating jolts.  Another five minutes left another seventy of the enemy dead, and another ten of Cade's men wounded or killed.

There was a momentary lull in the enemy's advance.  Cade took that moment to lead his remaining men from the ditch.  In a single mad dash, they raced from the ditch to one of the enemy's own buildings within the compound, on Goodrich Avenue just east of the tracks.  Once inside, they all knew it would be their last stand.  They could go no farther.  They would kill until they were all killed, then their part of the war would be over.

Cade stationed a man at each window, leaving two men free to search the building for ammunition.  Within five minutes the building had been completely surrounded; but within those same five minutes the two men sent to secure it came upon a stash of guns and, more importantly, something that was so rare it had almost never been used in any of the campaigns.  They brought Cade a small box containing half a dozen hand grenades.

All the men knew what they were, having seen pictures of them and read descriptions of their use and their lethal capacity; but no one in Stone Creek's army had ever handled one or been shown how to trigger it.  Cade, however, had seem them first hand as he was growing up, had been shown how to arm and deliver them, had even thrown one at a tree in an open field.  He calmly took the first grenade; watched the movements outside his window; and, when the time was right, had one of his men pull the pin for him.  Then he waited a couple seconds and heaved it from the window into the midst of an advancing force.  It exploded before they even realized what it was, killing nearly twenty of them.

Then Cade went to another window, took a second grenade, had the pin pulled, and threw that one into a second group of enemy soldiers.  He ran to a third window, only to witness the third group of soldiers retreating, along with all the others.  For the next two hours it was deathly quiet.  Not one enemy soldier was anywhere in sight.  The wounded in Cade's unit were finally attended to.

Of the six who had been wounded, Cade's injuries were by far the most severe.  One of his fellow recruits helped him remove his jacket, shirt and undershirt, revealing an expanse of congealed blood on his chest, abdomen and left arm so extensive it almost seemed like a second skin.  The wound in his chest had stopped bleeding but the hole at his shoulder had not clotted yet.  There was no antiseptic, only a roll of cotton bandage, which the recruit wrapped around both his chest and  shoulder; nor were there antibiotics or pain killers, only a bottle of long outdated aspirin, two of which Cade took.  As Cade sat there, looking out the window, he dozed off.  The recruit attending him let him sleep, meaning to awaken him within half an hour.  A sudden noise awoke him barely ten minutes after falling asleep.  He identified it at once as an explosion; it took him a couple minutes longer to realize that the sound had been in his own mind, not outside the building.

He began at once getting dressed and gathering up his gear, ordering his men to do the same.  He told them they must leave this building before the enemy returned.  When they pointed out to him that they were better defended here than anywhere else, he took out one of the grenades and held it up.

"If they have these," he said, "they must also have explosives.  It's only because we have these that they haven't already come at us with whatever explosives they have.  They know they'd never get close enough to use them.  But it'll soon be dark.  They'll come back, and they'll try it then.  We can't stay here."

Though in the middle of the enemy camp, surrounded by a host of buildings used as barracks and storehouses, Cade and his men managed to exit the building and escape back the way they came, toward Van Pelt Ditch.  A second time they descended knee keep into the frigid water; only, this time, instead of making a stand, they tried to make their escape along the ditch, working their way southward past McKay Road, the southern boundary of the enemy compound.

They had barely gotten below McKay when the compound came to life again.  Unable to see what was happening, they knew the activity centered around the building they had just escaped from less than an hour ago.  Another fifteen minutes passed; then suddenly an explosion lit up the sky above and the entire compound below, making everything and everyone within visible for the few seconds before the initial blast settled down into a blazing inferno rising up from the exact spot where Cade's unit had been holed up.

When the darkness started reclaiming the night sky surrounding the enemy camp, Cade motioned for his men to resume their escape, telling them that when the fire cooled enough for the enemy to begin looking for bodies, and found no sign of any, the pursuit would begin again.  Cade continued leading his men southward along the ditch until they came to a kind of fork, where another stream appeared to branch off from this one.  After several moments without moving, Cade motioned for his men to come closer; then he offered them a choice.

"We can keep going south," he stated one option, "or we can follow this other stream," he stated the other option.  "Before you decide," he cautioned, "consider that they chased us already in this gully.  They may return to it to see if we came this way.  Besides which, they would assume our escape to be southward, toward our own lines.  But if we head north, it may buy us some time."

"What would you have us do?" the other recruits asked.

"Head north," Cade answered.

"Then that's what we'll do," the others agreed.